Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 31-Mar-07
Iran hostage crisis grows increasingly dangerous

Web Log - March, 2007

Iran hostage crisis grows increasingly dangerous

This is comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

These are extremely tense days in Iran, and especially for president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

From this context came the news, last Saturday, that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a vestige of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, took 15 British marines and sailors hostage at gunpoint in the Persian Gulf.

A War of Words

Since that time, the "war of words" between Britain and Iran has been steadily escalating. Britons have been infuriated because the hostages were paraded on TV and forced to "confess" on TV and in letters.

Iran's Ahmed Khatami: "If they continuing their bullying gestures, they will have an expensive price to pay." <font size=-2>(Source: CNN)</font>
Iran's Ahmed Khatami: "If they continuing their bullying gestures, they will have an expensive price to pay." (Source: CNN)

Iran said that the hostages were being held because of "oppressive" British and US behavior.

As I wrote in my lengthy analysis of Iran's strategy, I've had much more difficulty evaluating Iran's direction than other countries' because Iran is following a somewhat contradictory policy, because Ahmadinejad is far more hardline than the young postwar Iranian generation.

TV analysts are puzzled as well, a couple of them indicating that Iran appears to want to trigger a war.

Kennedy versus Ahmadinejad

As I've previously indicated, the most fruitful way to understand Ahmadinejad is to compare him to American President John Kennedy.

Some people have found this strange, but it's actually a highly relevant comparison: Ahmadinejad became president at the start of Iran's Awakening era, and Kennedy became president at the beginning of America's Awakening era, at a time when the public was still very fearful of a third world war against the Soviet Union and China.

Kennedy was a young "new generation" President, in the "Hero generation" that fought and won World War II. As President, he had to prove that he could stand up to other international leaders, especially the Soviets. And he had to prove that he had learned the lessons of WW II. It was believed (incorrectly) that if Hitler had been stopped early, then WW II could have been avoided; it was American doctrine at the time that Communism had to be stopped early, to prevent World War III.

When Fidel Castro's Cuba became a Communist country right on our doorstep, it was recognized as a significant step toward World War III, and Kennedy had to act. First was the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, which Castro defeated.

Then, on October 16, 1962, reconnaissance photos revealed that the Soviets were building long-range ballistic missile sites in Cuba. Kennedy reacted quickly, what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On October 22, he went on nationwide TV, revealed the discovery of the missiles, and announced a naval blockade of Cuba that would prevent Soviet ships from bringing additional weapons to Cuba.

During the next few days, both the American and Soviet militaries were on high alert, preparing for full-scale nuclear war. On October 28, the Soviets publicly backed down and committed to removing the missile installations. The world breathed a sigh of relief.

Now, the way to understand Ahmadinejad's actions is to relate them to Kennedy's.

Ahmadinejad is a young "new generation" President, in the "Hero generation" that fought in the 1980s Iran/Iraq war -- which Iran lost. As President, he has to prove that he can stand up to other international leaders, especially the Israelis, Americans and British. And he has to prove that he had learned the lessons of the Iran/Iraq war.

The First Iranian Hostage Crisis

There's one more important event to take into account: The original Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Islamic radicals invaded the American embassy in Tehran. 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. President Carter refused to take military action, but repeatedly pleaded for release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds, to no avail.

This event was extremely traumatic for the American public. CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, supposedly the "most trusted" man in America, began each evening's news cast with something like "Today is Tuesday, January 28, 1980, the 136th day of the Iran Hostage Crisis." (Those numbers are made up, but you get the idea.)

That's when the "America Held Hostage" news show debuted on ABC at 11:30 pm each evening, to cover the latest events in the hostage crisis. (After the hostage crisis ended, the show was renamed "Nightline.")

The hostage crisis became a major focus of the 1980 Presidential campaign, with Ronald Reagan running against Jimmy Carter. After Reagan won the election, he and Carter made a secret deal that, during the three months from the election until Reagan took office, Reagan would repeatedly threaten the Iranians with armed force if the hostages weren't freed when he took office. It worked, and the hostages were freed and flown out of Iran at noon, on January 21, 1981, just as Reagan was being sworn in.

You don't hear much about this deception these days, but there was considerable gloating about this at the time. Americans don't recall this today, but I'm willing to bet that Ahmadinejad remembers it.

So when we analyze Ahmadinejad's actions, we have to take all of these factors into account: because of his youth, Ahmadinejad may be unable to back down from a confrontation, and particularly may be unable to simply allow the hostages to be freed, as they were in 1981.

Journalists often talk about Ahmadinejad being "hardline." This word means one thing when you're talking about Osama bin Laden, but when you're talking about Ahmadinejad, it means that he's hardline in the same sense that Kennedy was hardline: At the beginning of an Awakening era, a country will be very hardline on any issue that's perceived to risk a new crisis war (like WW II or the Iran/Iraq war, respectively).

The Opponents

When we compare Ahmadinejad and the current hostage crisis to Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis, we can see a clear parallel between their behaviors.

But there are clear differences when we analyze their respective opponents.

Kennedy's opponents were the Soviets, specifically the Russians. The last Russian crisis war was the Bolshevik Revolution and the following civil war, ending in the 1920s. Thus, in 1962, Russia was at the end of its generational Awakening era, entering its generational Unraveling era.

As anyone knows who remembers America's last Awakening era, the 1960s-70s, hardline policies just don't survive. In the case of America, President Kennedy was assassinated, President Johnson was forced to decline to rerun, and President Nixon was forced to resign.

Two events of the early 1990s illustrate an Unraveling era: In the Gulf War, when we drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, we simply left; we didn't go after Saddam in Baghdad. And later, in the "Blackhawk Down" incident, when a helicopter was shot down in Mogadishu, we simply left Somalia. These two events illustrate how any country acts during an Unraveling era.

So Russia was entering an Unraveling era at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, and they backed down. Kennedy's gamble paid off.

But things are very different for Ahmadinejad. His opponents are Britain, Israel and the U.S., all in a generational Crisis era. This fact indicates that it's far less likely that Ahmadinejad's opponents will back down the way Kennedy's opponents did.

How would Britain have acted this past week if it had been in an Unraveling era?

Map showing conflicting claims of UK and Iran. <font size=-2>(Added 2-Apr)</font> <font size=-2>(Source: MSNBC)</font>
Map showing conflicting claims of UK and Iran. (Added 2-Apr) (Source: MSNBC)

Actually, a number of commentators have addressed this very clearly. Several have said that Tony Blair might have made a statement to the effect, "As far as we know, the hostages were in Iraqi waters; if they were in Iranian waters, then it was a mistake." That would be a typical "Unraveling era" statement, and it might possibly have led to a quick diplomatic solution.

Instead, Blair immediately came out with a map that he said proved that the hostages were clearly in Iraqi waters, and couldn't possibly have been in Iranian waters. This closed off the possibility of a diplomatic solution based on "it was a mistake."

The Resolution

There's a great deal of worldwide hostility toward Iran at the present time, not only because of this hostage crisis, but also because of Iran's unwavering plan to develop nuclear technology (and build nuclear weapons). The fact that Russia has now apparently fully joined the coalition -- with America and the EU -- determined not to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, the possibility of military action against Iran is significantly high.

And it's worth reminding you again, dear reader, that last summer, when Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers as hostages, Israel panicked and launched the Lebanon war within four hours, with no plan and no objectives. With 15 British soldiers now in Iranian hands as hostages, this kind of scenario is a possibility.

Militating against this scenario is the fact that many countries -- including Britain and the U.S. -- want to find a diplomatic solution.

Furthermore, Iran itself is politically split, as any country is during an Awakening era. Kennedy's administration was split between hardliners and moderates, and the same is true in Iran's government today. It's possible that the moderates will force a diplomatic solution on Ahmadinejad.

So there are three possible scenarios:

Despite the apparently escalating diplomatic situation, I consider a diplomatic solution to be more likely than military action.

A Personal Anecdote

I very well remember the night that President Kennedy announced the naval blockade of Cuba, and how panicked every one in my dorm at MIT was. It was pretty clear to all of us that Kennedy was making a major gamble that was threatening thermonuclear war and risking all our lives.

I was pretty panicky myself -- I had been a NY Times subscriber for years, and I was following the situation assiduously. And I still recall the big sign on the bulletin board in the lobby of my dorm: "Tomorrow's weather forecast: Clear and sunny, with temperatures in the high million degrees."

It ended up pretty well for some guys, though. The stories came out afterwards that a number of guys had received phone calls from their girlfriends, saying, "I wanna get laid - I don't want to die a virgin."

So that leaves us with the following question: What are young Iranian women telling their boyfriends this weekend? Enquiring minds want to know. (31-Mar-07) Permanent Link
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail
Donate to Generational Dynamics via PayPal

Web Log Pages

Current Web Log

Web Log Summary - 2016
Web Log Summary - 2015
Web Log Summary - 2014
Web Log Summary - 2013
Web Log Summary - 2012
Web Log Summary - 2011
Web Log Summary - 2010
Web Log Summary - 2009
Web Log Summary - 2008
Web Log Summary - 2007
Web Log Summary - 2006
Web Log Summary - 2005
Web Log Summary - 2004

Web Log - December, 2016
Web Log - November, 2016
Web Log - October, 2016
Web Log - September, 2016
Web Log - August, 2016
Web Log - July, 2016
Web Log - June, 2016
Web Log - May, 2016
Web Log - April, 2016
Web Log - March, 2016
Web Log - February, 2016
Web Log - January, 2016
Web Log - December, 2015
Web Log - November, 2015
Web Log - October, 2015
Web Log - September, 2015
Web Log - August, 2015
Web Log - July, 2015
Web Log - June, 2015
Web Log - May, 2015
Web Log - April, 2015
Web Log - March, 2015
Web Log - February, 2015
Web Log - January, 2015
Web Log - December, 2014
Web Log - November, 2014
Web Log - October, 2014
Web Log - September, 2014
Web Log - August, 2014
Web Log - July, 2014
Web Log - June, 2014
Web Log - May, 2014
Web Log - April, 2014
Web Log - March, 2014
Web Log - February, 2014
Web Log - January, 2014
Web Log - December, 2013
Web Log - November, 2013
Web Log - October, 2013
Web Log - September, 2013
Web Log - August, 2013
Web Log - July, 2013
Web Log - June, 2013
Web Log - May, 2013
Web Log - April, 2013
Web Log - March, 2013
Web Log - February, 2013
Web Log - January, 2013
Web Log - December, 2012
Web Log - November, 2012
Web Log - October, 2012
Web Log - September, 2012
Web Log - August, 2012
Web Log - July, 2012
Web Log - June, 2012
Web Log - May, 2012
Web Log - April, 2012
Web Log - March, 2012
Web Log - February, 2012
Web Log - January, 2012
Web Log - December, 2011
Web Log - November, 2011
Web Log - October, 2011
Web Log - September, 2011
Web Log - August, 2011
Web Log - July, 2011
Web Log - June, 2011
Web Log - May, 2011
Web Log - April, 2011
Web Log - March, 2011
Web Log - February, 2011
Web Log - January, 2011
Web Log - December, 2010
Web Log - November, 2010
Web Log - October, 2010
Web Log - September, 2010
Web Log - August, 2010
Web Log - July, 2010
Web Log - June, 2010
Web Log - May, 2010
Web Log - April, 2010
Web Log - March, 2010
Web Log - February, 2010
Web Log - January, 2010
Web Log - December, 2009
Web Log - November, 2009
Web Log - October, 2009
Web Log - September, 2009
Web Log - August, 2009
Web Log - July, 2009
Web Log - June, 2009
Web Log - May, 2009
Web Log - April, 2009
Web Log - March, 2009
Web Log - February, 2009
Web Log - January, 2009
Web Log - December, 2008
Web Log - November, 2008
Web Log - October, 2008
Web Log - September, 2008
Web Log - August, 2008
Web Log - July, 2008
Web Log - June, 2008
Web Log - May, 2008
Web Log - April, 2008
Web Log - March, 2008
Web Log - February, 2008
Web Log - January, 2008
Web Log - December, 2007
Web Log - November, 2007
Web Log - October, 2007
Web Log - September, 2007
Web Log - August, 2007
Web Log - July, 2007
Web Log - June, 2007
Web Log - May, 2007
Web Log - April, 2007
Web Log - March, 2007
Web Log - February, 2007
Web Log - January, 2007
Web Log - December, 2006
Web Log - November, 2006
Web Log - October, 2006
Web Log - September, 2006
Web Log - August, 2006
Web Log - July, 2006
Web Log - June, 2006
Web Log - May, 2006
Web Log - April, 2006
Web Log - March, 2006
Web Log - February, 2006
Web Log - January, 2006
Web Log - December, 2005
Web Log - November, 2005
Web Log - October, 2005
Web Log - September, 2005
Web Log - August, 2005
Web Log - July, 2005
Web Log - June, 2005
Web Log - May, 2005
Web Log - April, 2005
Web Log - March, 2005
Web Log - February, 2005
Web Log - January, 2005
Web Log - December, 2004
Web Log - November, 2004
Web Log - October, 2004
Web Log - September, 2004
Web Log - August, 2004
Web Log - July, 2004
Web Log - June, 2004

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.